AAFP Members Honored as 2015 WONCA Rural Heroes

April 20, 2015 03:49 pm Chris Crawford

Laura Parajon, M.D., M.P.H., far right, discusses health with village members in Managua, Nicaragua.

The World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) Working Party on Rural Practice(www.globalfamilydoctor.com) created its "Rural Heroes"(www.globalfamilydoctor.com) initiative to spotlight rural family physicians working around the world whose career path and work could inspire others. The AAFP is proud to call three of its members 2015 Rural Heroes: Ronald Blum, M.D., Roger MacDonald, M.D., and Laura Parajon, M.D., M.P.H.

Rural Heroes Project

David Schmitz, M.D., chief rural officer and director of the rural training track at the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho in Boise and a member of the WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice, told AAFP News that the Rural Heroes project lets WONCA member organizations tell the story of their rural heroes, who may be family physicians, public health physicians or other health professionals.

Story highlights
  • The World Organization of Family Doctors Working Party on Rural Practice has announced its 2015 Rural Heroes, which include three AAFP members.
  • They are Ronald Blum, M.D., of Patten, Maine; Roger MacDonald, M.D., of Grand Marais, Maine; and Laura Parajon, M.D., M.P.H., of Managua, Nicaragua.
  • Rural Heroes are chosen based on their excellence as care providers, decision-makers, communicators, community leaders and team members.

"It offers an opportunity to highlight their life work and any research, publications or other writing that the physician has been involved in," Schmitz explained.

Rural Heroes are chosen based on their excellence as care providers, decision-makers, communicators, community leaders and team members.

"We do not often enough have the opportunity to recognize the selfless service of family physicians," said Schmitz. "Congratulations to these duly selected physicians for being honored with their international colleagues for contributions in rural health care."

AAFP Member Recipients

The first Rural Hero, Ronald Blum, M.D., has practiced family medicine in the rural village of Patten, Maine, for the past 40 years. The town of 1,100 is 35 miles from the nearest hospital. He also practices in a federally qualified rural health center in the Health Access Network in Medway, Maine, and at two locations of the Twin Rivers Paper Co. in Madawaska, Maine, and Edmundston, New Brunswick, Canada.

Blum attended medical school at Jefferson Medical College (now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University) in Philadelphia. Discouraged by the specialization promoted in large medical centers, he entered a primary care residency at a teaching hospital affiliated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.

World Family Doctor Day Student Event

The AAFP will host a live social media event(plus.google.com) for medical students on May 19 at 11:30 a.m. CDT as part of its "Family Medicine On Air" series to coincide with World Family Doctor Day.(www.globalfamilydoctor.com) AAFP member Kyle Hoedebecke, M.D., co-founder of the North American young doctors' movement Polaris, will be the featured speaker in the event, which will be published on the Family Medicine Interest Group Network Google Plus(plus.google.com) and YouTube(www.youtube.com) pages. Hoedebecke hopes to reach students interested in global health and discuss the opportunities available with a family medicine career choice. Participants will have the ability to submit questions during the live event and the video will be archived(www.youtube.com) on YouTube.

World Family Doctor Day was launched in 2010 to highlight the role and contribution of family physicians in health care systems around the world. A variety of events and activities are planned across the globe to celebrate the occasion.

After completing his residency, Blum traveled for more than a year, visiting health systems in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala and throughout Central America before joining a rural health center in Maine. One year later, he ventured into private practice and has spent the past 36 years serving a wide range of patients.

Throughout his career, Blum has been active with the Maine Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP), serving on its board of directors and as chapter president. He also is the senior member of the MAFP delegation to the AAFP Congress of Delegates.

Current MAFP President Lisa Marrache, M.D., of Waterville, nominated Blum and said in her nomination letter that he has "inspired innumerable student preceptees and cared for families over three generations, from delivery room to the nursing home."

"Both by example and as an educator and counselor, Dr. Blum communicates the values and specifics of wholesome, healthy living," she said. "He has taught in the local schools, to community groups, as well as to his individual patients and families."

The second Rural Hero, Roger MacDonald, M.D., practiced in the remote Minnesota towns of Littlefork and Grand Marais from 1948 until 1980, most of that time as a solo practitioner. In Grand Marais, he and his wife Barbara served as both staff and administrators of the first hospital built in the county. They established two satellite clinics, one on the Grand Portage Reservation, a community that is home to one of the six bands making up the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

In 1972, MacDonald began teaching third-year medical students, who would spend a year with a preceptor in a rural clinic as part of the state's Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP). From 1980 until his retirement in 1994, MacDonald served as associate director of RPAP at the University of Minnesota Medical School. According to his biography, the program was nationally recognized for its success in placing physicians in rural areas after completing their training.

MacDonald worked closely with Cook County public health staff to organize large groups of community volunteers, as well as local and regional physician volunteers, to establish free cancer screening clinics that continued for decades. He and his wife also were leaders in the Alcoholics Anonymous community, helping hundreds of individuals and their families get on a path to recovery.

The third AAFP member named a Rural Hero is Laura Parajon, M.D., M.P.H., who currently is working in Managua, Nicaragua.

Parajon holds a B.A. in anthropology from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and earned her medical degree and an M.P.H. from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, N.M., where she also completed her residency in family medicine.

Parajon's passion for community health began at Brown University, where she volunteered as a teacher and helped found the university's English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring program with two other students. While teaching ESL, she discovered that most of her students had medical problems, which prompted her to pursue a medical degree at UNM. According to her bio, Parajon chose that program because she knew it focused on working with underserved populations in urban and rural settings.

Since 2001, Parajon and her husband David (an internist and preventive medicine physician) have lived and worked in Nicaragua as American Baptist International Ministries missionaries.

Recognizing the need for health care in a large underserved rural population in the country, Parajon created a nongovernmental organization to provide care and education to 34 small communities in areas outside of the Ministry of Health's reach.

The communities identified people to serve as health promoters, and Parajon trained them to provide health care under protocols for both acute and chronic illnesses, monitor immunizations, help with pregnancy care and identify patients who need to be transported to a government center. The promoters also provide ongoing health education programs for the adults and schools in the community.

The nomination letter for Parajon written by former AAFP President Warren Heffron, M.D., reads, "She is a tremendous role model and has created a rural program that has proven itself to be sustainable for 13 years and is being modelled in other parts of the world."

Schmitz said he hopes these awards do more than just recognize some great family physicians.

"As a member of the WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice and as a rural training track program director, I hope that this not only honors those selected but also inspires others to follow these role models to a similarly rewarding career in rural family medicine."

Related AAFP News Coverage
Guest Editorial
Global Exchange: Experience Primary Care Beyond Our Borders


Leader Voices Blog: Follow the North Star: Global Health Is Focus of New Wonca Group

Additional Resource
WONCA: World Family Doctor Day -- May 19 is our day to celebrate(www.globalfamilydoctor.com)